London’s South Bank is a hub of culture. A two-mile procession of mainly state-funded arts and entertainment venues and events, it’s one of those rare places that is as popular with Londoners as with tourist visitors, and it's a great spot to experience being out and about in the capital again.
The area’s modern-day life began in 1951 with the Festival of Britain, which was staged to boost morale in the wake of WWII. Still testament to the project is The Royal Festival Hall, which has since expanded into the Southbank Centre and sits alongside BFI Southbank, the concrete ziggurat of the National Theatre, the London Eye, Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe and more.
As well as being a great place to soak up some London culture, the South Bank is great for a wander along the Thames, to check out a market or have a drink with views of the city skyline. There are plenty of eating options too – both restaurants and street food.
RECOMMENDED: Our London area guides.
The South Bank at a glance
The best restaurants near South Bank and Waterloo
After a bracing stroll along the riverside, you’e going to need a feed. Luckily, the South Bank is loaded with options. From spicy Indian fare to banging brunches and interesting options at institutions like the Tate Modern and the National Theatre, enjoy dinner with a view in among the action. Here’s our guide to the best restaurants in South Bank and Waterloo.
Best bars on the South Bank
The South Bank is one of London’s busiest stretches. So you need to be a bit strategic when you do your drinking here. That’s why we’ve rounded up the best bars along the South Bank. Coincidentally, they all have great views, many from up high. So whether you’re looking for posh cocktails or a chilled glass of wine, you can do so while still enjoying the South Bank’s best bits.
22 must-go places in Waterloo and the South Bank
Want to dodge the commuters and tourists and discover another side of the riverside? Check out these local insider tips from Time Out Tastemakers. Best cheap eat ‘Mamuśka is now in Leake Street and does fabulous Polish food!’ Melissa Goldsmith ‘Marie’s Café for an insanely good pad thai.’ Ioanna Laskari ‘Yamagoya’s signature ramen never disappoints, with gooey boiled eggs, perfect pork chashu and delicious broth.’ Hannah Summersfield ‘GoGo Pocha serves Korean food, piping hot at best-value prices.’ Manmeet Singh Best pub ‘The Mulberry Bush. Such a lovely, homely feel!’ Leena Shah ‘Vaulty Towers is a great find, with crannies decorated like tree houses, military bunkers and spaceships!’ Debbie Hopper ‘The King’s Arms is a tiny Georgian pub on the corner of a terrace on Roupell Street, a pocket of old London hidden in plain sight.’ Sarah Blaikie Best bar ‘Bar Elba. Who doesn’t love a rooftop bar, especially one open in winter?’ Sophie Berkoff ‘The Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden bar is the best place to have a few drinks with friends, with stunning views of the Thames.’ George Christodoulakis ‘Topolski has a great atmosphere, a good happy hour and delicious cocktails.’ Emily Parsons ‘Cubana: head there in the wee hours and get acquainted with the cocktail menu and the dancefloor.’ Sarah Blaikie ‘Tonight Josephine has neon signage, mirror ceilings, French sass and a flamboyant cocktail list.’ Annette Boateng Best thing to Instagram ‘Without a doubt, Leake Street graffiti tunnel. Every time you go it’s different, and I love watching people spray-painting.’ Emily Parsons ‘At sunset, stand in the middle of Waterloo Bridge and face the City for an epic view of London.’ LeeLee Seah Best place for coffee ‘Scootercaffè, where cappuccino is served in authentic Italian cups and there’s the occasional cat chilling on a chair.’ Marianna Meloni ‘Travelling Through bookshop has a cute little café in the basement where you can enjoy some stories with a cup of joe.’ Manmeet Singh Best place for culture ‘At the BFI Mediatheque you can watch old silent movies, war propaganda films, Hammer horror… there is so much choice!’ Julie Ramsden ‘The Old and Young Vics feel like playgrounds for the most celebrated actors and directors in London.’ Sarah Blaikie ‘Book a backstage tour at the National Theatre to stroll through the dressing rooms and see where the props are built.’ George Christodoulakis ‘The Vaults, with its glorious theatre festival and many other cool events throughout the year.’ Marianna Meloni Best place for fun ‘Indulge your inner six-year-old with rounds of air hockey, a bucket of Slush Puppie and reams of worthless tickets at Namco Funscape, the biggest arcade in London.’ Sarah Blaikie
London’s biggest beer garden is opening on the South Bank
Londoners have always loved beer gardens. But now, more than ever before, our social lives rely on beer gardens. That’s why it’s music to our ears that the city has a shiny new one and it’s the biggest in town (sorry, Ally Pally). Set over 4,000 square feet, Between the Bridges is opening on the South Bank on May 27. As well as loads of space for alfresco boozing, you can expect sustenance from some street food-faves including vegan wizards Club Mexicana, Latin-inspired fare from El Pollote, cheesy carbs from The Cheese Wheel and patties from Burger & Beyond. The new venue comes from the organisers of Winterville, Brockwell Park Festivals and the original Field Day, which means there will also be a great line-up of DJs and music (remember music?). Confirmed acts so far include Gilles Peterson, Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Jay Carder, Suggs from Madness and Norman Jay MBE. We don’t want to overwhelm you, but there is, in fact, more. The venue will also host weekly themed markets (plants, vintage finds, sustainable wares), mini-golf and drag brunches (drag brunch is back! Nature is healing) with ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ winner Lawrence Chaney as well as Baga Chipz, Tayce and Ginny Lemon. One more thing. They’re also bringing tejo to the capital, which for those not in the know is a Colombian game that’s kind of a big deal there and it involves throwing metal things and… gunpowder. We’ll say no more on the matter, but it’s safe to say it’ll make Zoom quizzes seem lamer than ever. Entry is free apart from on Friday and Saturday evenings when it’ll cost you a fiver to get in after 5pm, which is not too shabby, eh? It opens next week and in the meantime, we’ll be getting to grips with the rules of tejo. In other news, check out the Junction 2 festival line-up And have you heard about Le Bab’s new late-late-night kebab joint?
The best hotels on the South Bank
The best hotels on the South Bank are, with a couple of exceptions, new. Though millions of people a year (usually) have been strolling between the London Eye and Tower Bridge since it took off as a tourist destination in the noughties – having welcomed Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, Borough Market and the Millennium Bridge – it was another decade before the hotels caught up. One of the newer additions, the Mondrian, provides good food and excellent cocktails, but there are good café-restaurants at Tate Modern, the BFI Southbank, the National Theatre and Southbank Centre too. London Bridge or Waterloo stations give access to either end of the promenade, while Southwark or Blackfriars are best for the Tate. Read on to discover five of the best hotels on the South Bank. Looking for more options? Check out London’s best Airbnbs.
Things to do on the South Bank
Restaurants on the South Bank
You’ve heard of living in a box. How about dining in a box? Or, to be precise, eating in one of eight shipping containers. This pop-up Mexican restaurant and ‘dining project’is perched on the terrace of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with 130 seats spread over two floors.